x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ignore price tags, shop for bargains in the January transfer window

Thomas Woods: Craig Bellamy cost Liverpool nothing in transfer fees, proving you don't have to pay inflated prices to get a bargain in the transfer market.

Player of the season so far? You could have a lively debate. Manchester City's David Silva would be a front-runner along with Arsenal's Robin van Persie. You probably could throw half of Roberto Mancini's first XI into the mix, plus perhaps Phil Jones, Wayne Rooney, Luis Suarez and Luka Modric.

But signing of the season? It should be unanimous. Amid a summer of major spending in the Premier League, Liverpool's Kenny Dalglish snapped up the Welsh forward Craig Bellamy on a free transfer from City.

Bellamy comes with hefty wages, but in contrast to the fees that have been shelled out for players this year, he represents a bargain.

To put his value into context, compare him to Liverpool's priciest asset, the £35 million (Dh199m) striker Andy Carroll.

This may be unfair to Carroll. He was vastly overpriced, his transfer fee the result of last-minute manoeuvring in the January transfer window.

First, compare the two in a striker's currency - goals.

Bellamy has two goals in five starts in all competitions this season, Carroll has three in 10. The expensive forward has the inferior strike rate. In fact, Carroll's five Liverpool goals have cost £7m each, so far.

Add to that the number of goals Bellamy has assisted (three) compared to Carroll (zero) and his worth is clear. But more important is what the two players bring to the team: Bellamy, versatility; Carroll, a conundrum for his manager.

Bellamy's assets are pace and close control. It means he can play anywhere across the pitch - as part of a front two, behind a central striker, wide in a 4-3-3 or as a midfielder.

Modern football is all about adaptable tactics. The 4-5-1 formation is a particular favourite for managers at the moment, especially away from home, as it can easily become a progressive 4-3-3 when a team is on the attack. Dalglish likes to play it and Bellamy fits the mould.

With Carroll, Dalglish has yet to find a way to fit him into a successful side. Carroll's assets are neither pace nor control. He is about as near to the prototypical "English centre-forward" as can be imagined: dominant in the air, a rocket of a shot, most lethal inside the box. Unfortunately, Liverpool look better with Luis Suarez as the focus of the attack, supported by the likes of Dirk Kuyt, Bellamy and Stewart Downing. Carroll's lack of flexibility is his downfall in this Liverpool team.

He has spent most of his time recently on the bench and Dalglish should be applauded for having the conviction to bench his club's record signing in place of a man who cost virtually nothing.

twoods@thenational.ae